Philip Whiteley's Blog

June 25, 2012

The evil genius theory of capitalism

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:56 pm

Watching a (rather poor) TV drama recently, starring Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker, led me to ponder on a big theme in the forthcoming New Normal Radical Shift book: the extraordinary closeness of right-wing and left-wing political theories.

The drama consisted of vaguely defined behind-the-scenes Anglo-American big players in a British country house fixing things like the world order and so on. They explain to a young economist how the CIA invented the term Al Qaeda, etc; and also how the banks cooked up the sub-prime crisis.

At this point, I switched off. But what failed as drama confirmed many hunches I have had about the extraordinary deference in ‘progressive’ circles to their conservative opponents. The presumably left-wing script-writer cannot see that sub-prime, the credit crisis, the CDO Ponzi scheme and so on constituted a calamitous own-goal by the forces of Western capitalism. Such historic errors have weakened the economies of the West, probably irreparably, and with it the military and political power that once held sway.

There is a family resemblance to another left-wing theory. This is ‘social dumping’, which forms the basis of trade union campaigns for legislation to protect workers. It goes like this: workplace laws must be strong and international, in order to prevent devious capitalists maximizing their profits by locating outside areas covered by the laws, and minimizing workers’ pay and conditions where there are no rules to prevent them.

There is no acknowledgement in this theory that the value created by high employee morale and engagement tend to outweigh any savings from lower wage costs. In so doing, the campaigners repeat the cynical theories of the right that labour is just a ‘cost’ and treating people as disposable ‘resources’ maximises profits, indirectly praising a cynical theory that they ought to be challenging.

It is almost envy: the ‘evil genius’ theory of capitalism helps to keep alive damaging right-wing ideas that the left set out to oppose. One of the reasons that highly destabilising, unequal and exploitative forms of capitalism have been so dominant is the hero-worship they receive from the political left.


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